The National Labor Relations Board, the federal government's enforcer of labor law, has been at the center of a power struggle between the White House and the Senate. In June, the Supreme Court announced it would decide whether President Obama exceeded his constitutional authority by making three recess appointments to the NLRB during a pro forma Senate session. As part of a July 16 Senate deal to proceed with votes on stalled nominations, Obama agreed to withdraw the names of two of the nominees.
Despite this brouhaha, Pearce says he's focused squarely on the business at hand. His mandate is to implement Depression-era legislation in the context of social media. "The classic water cooler has become a virtual water cooler," Pearce says. "We're applying traditional methods to [gauge] how modern technology impacts ... concerted activity and activity for mutual aid and protection."
Since becoming NLRB chairman in August 2011, Pearce has promoted transparency by developing an iPhone app and ramping up the agency's output of press releases. "We've been walking towards the mic, as opposed to running away from it," he says. Ironically, the NLRB lacks the resources to deal with the resultant tide of queries. "It's kind of frustrating, because we're providing all of this entrée into the agency, and the agency is being scaled back and cannot respond in kind."
A native New Yorker, Pearce holds a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and a law degree from SUNY Buffalo. He is a founding partner of the Buffalo-based law firm Creighton, Pearce, Johnsen & Giroux. This is Pearce's second tour of duty at the agency: Before entering private practice, he was a district trial specialist in the NLRB's regional office in Buffalo.
As a former employer, "I had to deal with personnel decisions, terminating employees, providing employees with benefits, all of the things that factor into what a business does," the 59-year-old says. "That gave me a lot more sensitivity to these cases, where we're looking over the shoulders of these employers and making a judgment call. One conclusion that I can draw from that experience is that no decision is an easy one."